This spring, Sweden, normally considered one of the most free, equal, and democratic nations in the world, was reported to the European Committee of Social Rights for allegedly violating the human rights of pro-life doctors and nurses. Three Christian organizations (Pro Vita, KLM, and FAFCE) filed a formal complaint against the government for not allowing medical workers to exercise freedom of conscience and refuse to perform abortions. The issue has now spilled into a larger debate that’s familiar to most Western countries, but odd in liberal Sweden.
The groups filing the complaint initially claimed that this was about medical workers’ rights, but Ulrika Karlsson, a politician who belongs to the center-right Moderate Party, wrote in a blog post last August that it’s part of a larger campaign against the right to abortion, a view that was seemingly confirmed when Ruth Nordström, a lawyer for Pro Vita, responded to that post with one of her own, titled, “Sweden Needs Stronger Legal Protections for Unborn Children.”
Ulrika told me that pro-lifers’ position is both unpopular and absurd. “It’s not about ‘unborn children’ because they are fetuses. Most abortions in Sweden are performed before week nine,” she said. “If you are in week nine in your pregnancy, it’s not a child. It’s a fetus!”
Christian points of view are often dismissed out of hand in Sweden, said Bitte Assarmo, a left-wing Christian and former editor-in-chief of pro-life magazine Liv & Rätt. She told me that people in favor of freedom-of-conscience laws are portrayed as “evil people who don’t allow others the right to their own bodies.”
Bitte added that considering how small a minority pro-life Christians in Sweden are, it shouldn’t be a problem to find doctors who are willing to perform abortions, so why force pro-lifers to commit what in their eyes is a horrible sin?
That argument carries no weight with the anti-freedom-of-conscious majority. “In Sweden, the law is above religion and faith,” Ulrika told me. “If you work in Swedish health care, you cannot not treat children, or stop treating someone who’s ill just because that is against your religion.” If you have a problem with that, “you should probably look for another job.”
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